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DOI: 10.

1093/brain/awh040 Brain (2004), 127, 243±258

Out-of-body experience and autoscopy of

neurological origin
Olaf Blanke,1,2,3 Theodor Landis,3 Laurent Spinelli1,2 and Margitta Seeck1
1Laboratory of Presurgical Epilepsy Evaluation, Correspondence to: Dr Olaf Blanke, Department of
Programme of Functional Neurology and Neurosurgery, Neurology, University Hospital of Geneva,
University Hospitals, Geneva-Lausanne, and 2Functional 24 rue Micheli-du-Crest, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland
Brain Mapping Laboratory and 3Neurology Clinic, E-mail: olaf.blanke@hcuge.ch
Department of Neurology, University Hospital, Geneva,


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During an out-of-body experience (OBE), the experient the complex experiences of OBE and AS represent
seems to be awake and to see his body and the world paroxysmal disorders of body perception and cognition
from a location outside the physical body. A closely (or body schema). The processes of body perception
related experience is autoscopy (AS), which is charac- and cognition, and the unconscious creation of central
terized by the experience of seeing one's body in extra- representation(s) of one's own body based on proprio-
personal space. Yet, despite great public interest and ceptive, tactile, visual and vestibular informationÐas
many case studies, systematic neurological studies of well as their integration with sensory information of
OBE and AS are extremely rare and, to date, no test- extrapersonal spaceÐis a prerequisite for rapid and
able neuroscienti®c theory exists. The present study effective action with our surroundings. Based on our
describes phenomenological, neuropsychological and ®ndings, we speculate that ambiguous input from these
neuroimaging correlates of OBE and AS in six neuro- different sensory systems is an important mechanism of
logical patients. We provide neurological evidence that OBE and AS, and thus the intriguing experience of see-
both experiences share important central mechanisms. ing one's body in a position that does not coincide with
We show that OBE and AS are frequently associated its felt position. We suggest that OBE and AS are
with pathological sensations of position, movement and related to a failure to integrate proprioceptive, tactile
perceived completeness of one's own body. These and visual information with respect to one's own body
include vestibular sensations (such as ¯oating, ¯ying, (disintegration in personal space) and by a vestibular
elevation and rotation), visual body-part illusions (such dysfunction leading to an additional disintegration
as the illusory shortening, transformation or movement between personal (vestibular) space and extrapersonal
of an extremity) and the experience of seeing one's (visual) space. We argue that both disintegrations (per-
body only partially during an OBE or AS. We also ®nd sonal; personal±extrapersonal) are necessary for the
that the patient's body position prior to the experience occurrence of OBE and AS, and that they are due to a
in¯uences OBE and AS. Finally, in ®ve patients, brain paroxysmal cerebral dysfunction of the TPJ in a state
damage or brain dysfunction is localized to the tem- of partially and brie¯y impaired consciousness.
poro-parietal junction (TPJ). These results suggest that

Keywords: out-of-body experience; autoscopy; neurology; body schema; multisensory processing

Abbreviations: AP = autoscopic phenomenon; AS = autoscopy; FLAIR = ¯uid attenuated inversion recovery;

OBE = out-of-body experience; SPECT = single photon emission computer tomography; TPJ = temporo-parietal junction.
Received June 30, 2003. Revised August 22, 2003. Accepted September 22, 2003. Advanced Access publication December 12, 2003

An out-of-body experience (OBE) may be de®ned as the characterized by the experience of seeing one's body in
experience in which a person seems to be awake and to see his extrapersonal space. Both experiences are classi®ed as
body and the world from a location outside the physical body. autoscopic phenomena (AP) (Devinsky et al., 1989;
A closely related experience is autoscopy (AS), which is Brugger et al., 1997) as, during an OBE and an AS, the
Brain Vol. 127 No. 2 ã Guarantors of Brain 2003; all rights reserved
244 O. Blanke et al.

experient sees himself as a part of the extrapersonal world. gest that OBE might re¯ect the projection of a subtle, non-
Yet, during the OBE, the experient appears to `see' himself physical aspect of one's personality in extrapersonal space and
and the world from a location other than his physical body thus an actual separation of the mind from the body (Muldoon
(parasomatic visuo-spatial perspective), whereas the experi- and Carrington, 1929; Crookall, 1964; Rogo, 1982; but see
ent during AS remains within the boundaries of his physical Irwin, 1985; Blackmore, 1982; Alvarado, 1992), most psycho-
body (physical visuo-spatial perspective) (Green, 1968; logical theories assume OBE to re¯ect an imaginal experience
Blackmore, 1982; Irwin, 1985; Devinsky et al., 1989; (Schilder, 1914, 1935; Palmer, 1978; Irwin, 1985; Blackmore,
Brugger, 2002). 1982). Thus, later authors were able to link OBEs to processes
OBE and AS (OBE/AS) have fascinated mankind from of mental imagery and visuo-spatial perspective-taking (Irwin,
time immemorial and are abundant in folklore, mythology 1981, 1986; Cook and Irwin, 1983; Blackmore, 1987); Brugger
and spiritual experiences (Rank, 1925; Menninger- (2002) has recently included this in his classi®cation of OBE/
Lerchenthal, 1946; Todd and Dewhurst, 1955; Sheils, AS in neurological and psychiatric patients.
1978). In more recent times, both experiences became a With respect to the neuroanatomical underpinnings of
frequent and popular topic in the romantic literary movement OBE/AS, most studies found the parietal, temporal and
of the 19th Century (Rank, 1925; Todd and Dewhurst, 1955; occipital lobe to be involved (HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra, 1952;
BoÈschenstein, 1987; McCulloch, 1992). Re¯ecting these Todd and Dewhurst, 1955; Lunn, 1970; Devinsky et al., 1989;
popular trends, detailed case descriptions (Muldoon and Brugger et al., 1997). Some of these authors have suggested

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Carrington, 1929; Yram, 1972; Alvarado, 1992) and medical either a predominance of temporal lobe involvement
reports (Du Prel, 1886; FeÂreÂ, 1891; Sollier, 1903) began to (Devinsky et al., 1989; GruÈsser and Landis, 1991; Dening
appear. Since then, both experiences have been described and Berrios, 1994) or parietal lobe (Menninger-Lerchenthal,
repeatedly in patients suffering from neurological or psychi- 1935, 1946; HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra, 1952). Others sug-
atric disease (Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935, 1946, 1961; gested that both experiences have no precise brain localiza-
Lhermitte, 1939; HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra, 1952; Todd and tion (Lhermitte, 1951). With regard to hemispheric
Dewhurst, 1955; Lukianowicz, 1959; Leischner, 1961; asymmetries, some authors found no hemispheric predomin-
Frederiks, 1969; Critchley, 1969; Devinsky et al., 1989; ance (HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra, 1952; Frederiks, 1978;
GruÈsser and Landis, 1991; Dening and Berrios, 1994; Devinsky et al., 1989; Dening and Berrios, 1994), while
Brugger et al., 1997). Both AP have been related to various others have suggested a right hemispheric predominance
neurological diseases such as epilepsy, migraine, neoplasia, (Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935, 1946; GruÈsser and Landis,
infarction and infection (Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935, 1991; Brugger et al., 1997).
1946; Lippman, 1953; Devinsky et al., 1989; GruÈsser and Despite these numerous investigations, systematic neuro-
Landis, 1991; Dening and Berrios, 1994; Brugger et al., 1997; logical studies of OBE and AS are rare. To date, there is no
Podoll and Robinson, 1999) and pychiatric diseases such as widely accepted and testable neuroscienti®c theory about the
schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and dissociative disorders central mechanisms of OBE/AS (Dening and Berrios, 1994).
(Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935; Lhermitte, 1939; Bychovski, This is surprising as other body illusions, such as super-
1943; HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra, 1952; Todd and Dewhurst, numerary phantom limbs or the transformation of an
1955; Lukianowicz, 1958; Dening and Berrios, 1994). extremity (visual illusions of body parts), have been system-
Most neurological authors agree that OBE/AS relate to a atically investigated by many neuroscientists (HeÂcaen and
paroxysmal pathology of body perception and cognition (or Ajuriaguerra, 1952; Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1998;
body schema). Yet, it is not known which of the many senses Brugger et al., 2000; Halligan, 2003). Importantly, these
involved in body perception and cognition are primarily studies have led to the description of some of the central
involved in the generation of OBE/AS. Thus, some authors mechanisms of visual illusions of body parts and to the
postulated a dysfunction of proprioception and kinesthesia, development of more ef®cient treatments (Sathian et al.,
others a dysfunction of visual or vestibular processing, as well 2000). However, this is not the case for visual illusions of the
as combinatory dysfunctions between these different sensory entire body such as OBE/AS, which continue to occupy a
systems (Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935; HeÂcaen and neglected position between neurobiology and mysticism.
Ajuriaguerra, 1952; Leischner, 1961; Frederiks, 1969; The present study describes phenomenological, neuro-
Devinsky et al., 1989; Brugger et al., 1997; GruÈsser and logical, neuropsychological and neuroimaging correlates of
Landis, 1991). OBE/AS are also known in the healthy OBE/AS in six neurological patients. This was performed in
population, where they happen generally once or twice in a order to develop testable hypotheses about their underlying
lifetime and have a prevalence of ~10% (Menninger- neural mechanisms.
Lerchenthal, 1935; Lhermitte, 1951; HeÂcaen and
Ajuriaguerra, 1952; Green, 1968; Palmer, 1979; Blackmore,
1982; Irwin, 1985). Parapsychological and psychological Methods
authors have intensively investigated OBE/AS in healthy Phenomenology
subjects based on case collections, surveys and experimental Each case was analysed by means of a semi-structured interview,
investigations. Whereas, some parapsychological authors sug- which recorded detailed phenomenological information about the
Out-of body experience and autoscopy 245

OBE/AS (visual, vestibular, auditory, tactile, proprioceptive and ing of the individual lesions and localized dysfunctions were carried
motor characteristics). We also inquired about the visuo-spatial out using AVS software (Advanced Visual Systems, USA). In
perspective from which the experience was `seen' (physical or Patient 1, ictal SPECT and three-dimensional EEG spike mapping
parasomatic visual perspective) and the visual characteristics of were matched to MRI (PET could not be recovered in digital
one's own `seen' body (completeness: whether all body parts were format). In Patient 2, the gyral location of the intracranial electrodes
seen; body position: standing, sitting, supine; eventual actions). We where her seizures (those related to OBEs) started was matched to
asked explicitly for simple and complex visual, auditory and tactile MRI. In Patient 3, the gyral location of the intracranial electrodes
hallucinations, the presence of visual ®eld loss, and visual and non- whose stimulation resulted in an OBE was matched to MRI. In
visual body-part illusions (HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra, 1952). With Patient 4, no lesion could be determined (MRI and EEG recordings
respect to vestibular manifestations, we inquired about the sensation were normal). In Patient 5, diffusion MRI and EEG spike mapping
of rotation, vertigo, falling, elevation, ¯ying, ¯oating, lightness and were matched to MRI (neither SPECT nor PET were carried out). In
heaviness (Smith, 1960). For all manifestations, we asked whether Patient 6, interictal PET and EEG spike mapping were matched to
they appeared before, during, or after OBE/AS or at different MRI (ictal SPECT was unrevealing).
instances. We also inquired about emotional feelings during
OBE/AS. Patients were recruited from the Neurology Clinic,
Geneva (Patients 4, 5) and from the Presurgical Epilepsy Unit Group lesion analysis
(Patients 1, 2, 3, 6). Informed consent was obtained and the study The regions as suggested by the individual overlap analysis for the
was conducted in conformity with The Declaration of Helsinki. ®ve patients (all patients except Patient 4) were used to determine

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the region of overlap overall patients (mean overlap analysis). This
was performed by transposing the MRI (including the location of
Surface and intracranial EEG, electrical cortical individual lesion overlap) of each patient onto Patient 5's MRI (left
stimulation hemisphere).
Continuous long-term video-EEG recordings with 29 scalp and two
sphenoidal electrodes were carried out in Patients 1, 2 and 6 (Blanke
et al., 2000a). Repetitive EEGs in Patients 4 and 5 were performed Case reports
by 19 scalp electrodes. Patients 2 and 3 were further investigated A short summary of the clinical ®ndings is given in Table 1 for each
using subdural grid recordings (Ad-Tech, USA), since non-invasive patient. Special emphasis is given to the phenomenological
investigations did not allow us to de®ne the epileptic focus and its description of OBE/AS. More clinical and phenomenological details
anatomical dissociation from vital cortex (Lesser et al., 1987). are given as supplementary material available at Brain Online.
Eighty-eight electrodes were implanted in Patient 2 and 102
electrodes in Patient 3. Subdural electrodes and electrical stimula-
Patient 1
tion were used as described by Blanke et al. (2000b).
Patient 1 suffered from complex partial seizures that were
characterized initially by an OBE or visual manifestations of
varying degree (supplementary material). Pharmacoresistant epi-
Clinical examination
lepsy was diagnosed. Presurgical epilepsy evaluation suggested right
A complete neurological examination including quantitative visual
occipito-parietal seizure onset partly overlapping and anterior to a
®eld testing and an extensive neuropsychological examination (oral
right occipito-parietal dysembryoblastic neuroepithelial tumor
and written language, visual gnosias, spatial functions, executive
(Fig. 2A, pink).
functions, memory; Pegna et al., 1998) was carried out for each
patient. OBE. Patient 1 felt as if she would be elevated vertically and
effortlessly from her actual position associated with vertigo and fear.
She saw herself (entire body as lying on the ground, facing up) and
Neuroimaging some unknown people (some were standing around her body, others
In all patients, 3D MRI was carried out. MRI sequences included T1, were moving around) below. Initially, she felt as being `above her
T2 weighted imaging as well as a ¯uid attenuated inversion recovery real body', but that she was rapidly rising higher. She felt as if her
(FLAIR) sequence (additional diffusion and perfusion imaging were elevated body was in the horizontal position, but did not see any part
performed for Patient 4). For each patient, the anatomical region of it. The visual scene always took place outdoors and was described
implicated in OBE/AS generation was estimated based on as `a green meadow or hill'. The sensation of elevation continued
neuroimaging examinations that were available in each patient [in and, quickly, she saw everything from so far away that she could not
addition to 3D MRI: intracranial EEG, intracranial stimulation, EEG distinguish details anymore stating that she saw "something like a
spike mapping, PET and single photon emission computer map of some country as you ®nd in geography books". Here, the
tomography (SPECT)]. EEG spike mapping was performed by elevation stopped and she fell back "to earth". The patient indicated
applying a distributed linear inverse solution [LAURA (based on that OBEs occurred independent of her body position.
Local AUtoRegressive Averages); Grave et al., 2001] within the 3D
MRI of the patient (Michel et al., 1999; Lantz et al., 2001).
Patient 2
Patient 2 suffered from complex partial seizures that were
Individual lesion analysis characterized initially by the hearing of a humming sound in her
For each patient, the results of neuroimaging examinations were right backspace. On other occasions, she had the visual impression
transformed to the individual patient's 3D MRI (Spinelli et al., 2001; (while lying down) that her legs were elevated and bent (at the
Blanke et al., 2003). Three-dimensional rendering and superimpos- knees) followed by stretching, in rhythmic alternation. If she asked
O. Blanke et al.

Table 1 Clinical data: results of neurological examination, visual ®eld testing, ictal and interictal surface EEG recordings (sEEG), intracranial EEG (iEEG), 3D
MRI, PET, SPECT, neuropsychological examination and individual lesion overlap analysis
Patient (origin) Neurology VF sEEG sEEG iEEG MRI PET SPECT Neuro-psychology OBE/AS
Ictal/ seizures Interictal Ictal/ Interictal Ictal Interictal/post-ictal Site gyrus

1 (epileptic Normal Normal R (post T) ± ± R (O, P, T) R (O, P) R Topographical agnosia, AG, LOG,
seizure) (T, O, P) mental rotation de®cit, STG, MTG
visuo-spatial memory
2 (epileptic Normal Normal L (post T) L (T, post T) L (AG, STG, L (post T) L (T,P) L (T,P) Anomic aphasia, verbal AG, STG,
seizure) PCG) ¯uency de®cit, oral and PCG
written comprehension
3 (electrical Normal Normal R (T, ant T) R (T) R (AG,STG) Normal Normal R (T) Visuo-spatial and verbal AG, STG
cortical memory de®cit, visual
stimulation) agnosia, visuo-spatial
4 (not known) Left motor loss ± Normal Normal ± Normal ± ± Normal -
5 (epileptic Spatiotemporal Right lateral ± L (T, F) ± L (insula, P, O) ± ± Global aphasia, apraxia LOG, AG,
seizure) disorientation, homonymous insula
right sensori- hemianopia
motor loss
6 (epileptic Normal* Normal L (T) L (ant T, post T) ± Bilateral postsurgical L (T) Normal Naming de®cit, ideomotor STG, MTG,
seizure) subcortical lesions apraxia, verbal ¯uency AG
de®cit, verbal and visuo-
spatial memory de®cit

Anatomical location indicated by: AG = angular gyrus; F = frontal; L = left hemisphere; LOG = lateral occipital gyrus; MTG = middle temporal gyrus; O = occipital; P = parietal;
PCG = precentral gyrus; R = right hemisphere; STG = superior temporal gyrus; T = temporal.

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Out-of body experience and autoscopy 247

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Fig. 1 Phenomenology of OBE and AS. An OBE is de®ned as the
experience in which a person seems to see his/her body and the
world from a location outside the physical body. During an OBE,
the experient appears to `see' himself (physical body, depicted on
the left) and the world from a location other than his physical body
(parasomatic body and visuo-spatial perspective, depicted on the
right). AS is de®ned as the experience of seeing one's body
(depicted on the right) in extrapersonal space, but from the
habitual physical visuo-spatial perspective. During AS, the Fig. 2 Individual lesion analysis. In the ®ve patients in whom a
observer thus remains within the boundaries of his physical body lesion could be de®ned, the results of lesion overlap analysis are
(depicted on the left). Both experiences are classi®ed as autoscopic shown on the individual 3D MRIs. (A±C) Lesion overlap for
phenomena since, during OBE and AS, the observer sees himself patients with OBE (note that Patient 2 initially experienced OBE,
as a part of the extrapersonal world. The direction of the visuo- but after partial resection of her epileptic focus, she experienced
spatial perspective is indicated by an arrow for both experiences. AS). (D±E) Lesion overlap for patients with AS. In Patient 1 (A),
lesion overlap (pink) is centred on the posterior part of the
superior and middle temporal gyri and the angular gyrus in the
another person whether they saw her legs moving, they always right hemisphere. In Patient 2 (B), seizure onset (red) was
responded negatively. Pharmacoresistrant epilepsy was diagnosed. localized to the posterior part of the superior temporal gyrus, the
During non-invasive presurgical epilepsy evaluation, Patient 2 angular gyrus and the inferior postcentral gyrus in the left
presented an OBE during a complex partial seizure due to a focal hemisphere. In Patient 3 (C, blue), electrical cortical stimulation
dysplasia in the left parieto-temporal cortex. Subdural electrodes of the junction of the posterior part of the superior temporal gyrus
allowed us to localize the seizure onset zone to the angular gyrus, the and the angular gyrus in the right hemisphere induced an OBE. In
Patient 4 (D), lesion overlap (green) is centred in two regions in
posterior superior temporal gyrus and the postcentral gyrus in the left
the left hemisphere. One region included the angular gyrus and the
hemisphere (Fig. 2B, red electrodes), overlapping partly with the lateral occipital gyrus; the other region was localized to the insula.
lesion as de®ned by MRI (extending posteriorly, where language Lesion overlap in Patient 5 (E, yellow) included the posterior parts
function was found). Focal resection of the middle part of the left of the superior and middle temporal gyrus, and the adjacent
superior and middle temporal gyrus, leaving language cortex intact, angular gyrus in the left hemisphere.
was carried out. Following the operation, the frequency and length of
complex partial seizures were diminished. Yet, partial seizures with Video analysis revealed facial automatisms and a patient who
different semiology characterized by AS and vestibular manifest- looked to the left and immediately afterwards sat up. She did not
ations without auditory manifestations were noted. Further work is answer questions asked 30 s after seizure onset. During the post-ictal
pending. phase, she presented habitual word ®nding dif®culties.

OBE (prior to operation). The patient was lying in bed and awakened AS (after the operation). Post-operatively, Patient 2 described the
from sleep, and the ®rst thing she remembered was "the feeling of appearance of AS characterized by the impression as if she were
being at the ceiling of the room". She "[¼] had the impression that I seeing herself from behind herself (seeing the back of her head and
was dreaming that I would ¯oat above [under the ceiling] of the upper torso without arms). She felt as if she were "standing at the
room [¼]". The patient also saw herself in bed (in front view) and foot of my bed and looking down at myself" and as if "looking
gave the description that "the bed was seen from above" and that through a telescope". During the same experience, Patient 2 also has
"there was a man and that she was very frightened". The scene was in the impression of `seeing' from her physical visuo-spatial perspec-
colour, and was visually clear and very realistic. tive, which looked at the wall immediately in front of her. Asked at
248 O. Blanke et al.

Fig. 3 Graphical depiction of experienced AS (as drawn by Patient 4). The patient divided his experience in two periods (A,B). In the
initial period, he experienced being elevated in his living room chair into the air by ~3 m in the direction of the arrow (A). In the second
period, he experienced a `second' body, which continued to be elevated, but left the patient's body from the elevated position in the chair
(see text). (C) depicts the visual scene as Patient 4 experienced seeing it from his elevated position in the chair. Numbers indicate the

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dimensions of the patient's living room in metres. The position of the patient's wife is indicated by (A) and the successive locations of
Patient 3 during the he-autoscopic period by (B), (C) and (D).

which of these two positions she thinks herself to be, she answered Patient 4
that "I am at both positions at the same time", without having the Patient 4 was known for arterial hypertension, smoking and
feeling of being out of her body. moderate recurrent migraine headaches. He had been hospitalized
for venous thrombosis (left central retinal vein leading to severely
diminished visual acuity that partially recovered) and acutely
Patient 3 diminished visual acuity of the right eye (complete recovery).
Patient 3 suffered from complex partial seizures that started with an Despite numerous clinical investigations, the aetiology of the venous
epigastric aura followed by the sensation of globally diminished thrombosis of the left eye and the diminished visual acuity of the
hearing. Patient 3 never experienced OBE/AS during or outside her right eye could not be determined. During the hospitalization,
seizures. Rarely she had the dreamlike impression of ¯ying and Patient 4 was referred to the neurology clinic for loss of
lightness and the distinct feeling that somebody was behind her back consciousness, severe headache and left-sided weakness associated
(more frequently on the right side) although, upon turning round, with AS. The neurological examination revealed a left-sided arm and
leg weakness that recovered within 48 h. Further examinations were
there was nobody there. Pharmacoresistant epilepsy was diagnosed
normal. No precise diagnosis could be given (migraine, transitory
and she was addressed for presurgical epilepsy evaluation. Based on
ischaemic attack, epilepsy).
these examinations, right temporal lobe epilepsy was diagnosed.
However, as MRI did not reveal any lesion, invasive monitoring was
AS. Patient 4 was sitting when he suddenly heard his wife saying
indicated and con®ned the seizure focus to the right amygdala and
quite loudly: "Are you alright?". He had dif®culty answering and felt
the immediately surrounding cortex (Fig. 2C).
slowly elevated with the chair into the air (to ~3 m high; Fig. 3A). He
then experienced being "doubled" and saw "a second own body" that
OBE. The phenomenology and clinical ®ndings related to OBEs of
came "out of the elevated body" sitting in the chair (Fig. 3B). This
Patient 3 have been brie¯y described previously (Blanke et al.,
`second body' was seen from behind with all body parts in the sitting
2002). OBEs were induced repeatedly by electrical stimulation
position (from his elevated physical visuo-spatial perspective). It
during invasive presurgical epilepsy evaluation. At the same
continued to ¯oat and ascend without any body movements. This
electrode site, vestibular sensations and visual body part illusions
experience was associated with feelings of lightness and ¯oating. In
were induced (supplementary material). Figure 2C depicts the
rapid alternation, he heard and saw his wife from above (Fig 3C) and
electrode sites (turquoise dots) at the parieto-temporal junction
from immediately in front of him (as if still sitting in his chair on the
where OBEs and other responses were obtained.
ground). The experience was described as a moment of elation and
An OBE was induced three times at 3.5 mA. Immediately after the
great happiness.
®rst stimulation, Patient 3 reported: "I see myself lying in bed, from
above, but I only see my legs". She said that she `saw' only her legs
and lower trunk. The remaining parts of the room including the table
next to the bed and the window, as well as three other people present Patient 5
were also seen from the above visual perspective. An essential part Patient 5 was known for familial hemiplegic migraine. Migraine
of the experience was the feeling of being separated from her seen headaches were present since puberty. Associated neurological
body. She said: "I am at the ceiling" and "I am looking down at my symptoms (recurrent right-sided digital paresthesias, followed by
legs". Two further stimulations induced an identical experience. She propagation to the entire arm, the right half of the face, and ®nally
felt an instantaneous sensation of `¯oating' near the ceiling and the patient's back) were noticed since he was 19 years old. These
localized herself ~2 m above the bed. During these trials, Patient 3 symptoms were followed by speech dif®culties and simple visual
was very intrigued and surprised by the induced responses. hallucinations, and diminished within 2±3 h, followed by severe
Out-of body experience and autoscopy 249

Table 2 General and visual phenomenology of OBE and AS

Patient Visuo-spatial perspective Colour Visual Veridicality Integration of Presence of other
clarity actual facts seen objects/subjects
Number Position

1 (OBE) 1 Para + High + ± +

2a (OBE) 1 Para + High + + +
2b (AS) 2 Para/Phy ± Medium + + +
3 (OBE) 1 Para + High + + +
4 (AS) 2 Para/Phy + High + + +
5 (AS) 2 Para/Phy + High + + +
6 (AS) 1 Phy ± High ± (+) (+)

The number and position of the visuo-spatial perspective (para = parasomatic; phy = physical), the presence of coloured vision (+ = yes;
± = no), the visual clarity (high, medium, low) and veridicality of the experience are given (+ = yes; ± = no). In addition, the integration
of actual facts into the experience (+ = yes; ± = no) and the presence of other seen objects/persons than the patient's own body (+ = yes;
± = no) are given.

left-sided headaches. Several neurological examinations during the evaluation suggested seizure onset in the left posterior and anterior

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period of migraine headache found right-sided sensori-motor loss, temporal region (Fig. 2E).
right-sided homonymous hemianopia, as well as aphasia and
apraxia. During the present hospitalization, Patient 5 was referred AS. In isolation or in association with her habitual complex partial
to us for severe spatial-temporal disorientation, speech dif®culties seizures, Patient 6 would suddenly have the impression of seeing an
and right-sided weakness with fever (38.5°C). The neurological "image of herself in front of her eyes". She saw only the upper part of
examination showed moderate right-sided sensori-motor loss, right- the ®gure including the face and upper torso. She had the feeling that
sided homonymous hemianopia, and severe global aphasia and she was "looking into a mirror or at a picture of myself". She
apraxia. For further clinical details, see the supplementary material. described the image of herself as ¯at and two-dimensional. Her face
On the 10th day, Patient 5 presented a complex partial seizure that was motionless and expressionless with eyes open and mouth closed.
was characterized by AS, secondary tonico-clonic generalization The image was localized centrally and ~1 m from the patient's
and urinal loss. EEG and MRI investigations suggested two physical body. She could not detail much of the remaining visual
independent seizure foci: the left fronto-temporal-insular cortex scene, as the area surrounding her seen upper body was dark. AS was
and the left temporo-parieto-occipital cortex (Fig. 3D). During the mainly experienced when she was sitting, but also occurred rarely in
next 3 months, Patient 5 almost completely recovered from his lying and standing positions.
severe neuropsychological de®cits. He did not re-experience OBE/
AS, but the frequent paroxysmal experience of feeling a `shadow' of
a person on the right. Under anti-epileptic medication, no further
complex partial seizures were noted. Results
Visual phenomenology
AS. Patient 5 was sitting at a table in a room of the hospital while a Visual characteristics will be described separately for OBE
nurse was re-adjusting a venous catheter on his right arm. Suddenly, and AS, and are summarized for all patients in Tables 2 and 3.
he felt intense fear and was convinced that the "nurse wants to Since the seizure semiology in Patient 2 changed following
intoxicate me". This was associated with the experience of slow partial resection of her epileptic focus, pre-operative mani-
backward rotation into a horizontal position. There, he suddenly saw
festations (OBE) are described as Patient 2a and post-
himself standing behind the nurse. He stated that: "He looked like
myself, but ten years younger and was dressed differently than I was
operative manifestations (AS) as Patient 2b (Tables 2 and 3).
at that moment". Patient 5 saw only the upper part of himself, All OBEs were described from one visuo-spatial perspec-
including the trunk, head, shoulders, arms and hands. Then he had tive, which was localized by all patients (1, 2a and 3) in a
the impression of being examined by a physician. This was second (parasomatic) body outside the physical body. This
interrupted by the intervention of his second body, who was seen parasomatic visuo-spatial perspective was experienced as
to start a ®ght with the physician and nurses. Patient 5 had the immediately elevated in all patients and described as inverted
impression of seeing the scene either from his rotated position by 180° with respect to the extrapersonal visual space and
("look[ing] at the ceiling") or from his initial sitting position in the their habitual physical body position. In two OBE-patients,
chair prior to the seizure. These different perspectives changed a few the parasomatic visuo-spatial perspective and body were
times during the episode. During this episode, Patient 5 felt ~2±3 m above their actual physical position (Patients 2a and
extremely tense; he was shaking and making ®sts so strongly that
3), whereas it was variable and also included greater distances
his ®ngers were perforating his palms.
in Patient 1. No OBE-patient described more than one
simultaneous visuo-spatial perspective. During AS, the
Patient 6 patients described either one (Patient 6) or two visuo-spatial
Patient 6 suffered from complex partial seizures that were perspectives. Whereas, Patient 6 experienced AS from her
characterized initially by AS or by simple visual hallucinations. habitual physical visuo-spatial perspective, Patients 2b, 4 and
Pharmacoresistant epilepsy was diagnosed. Presurgical epilepsy 5 experienced `seeing' from two different visuo-spatial
250 O. Blanke et al.

Table 3 Own body phenomenology of OBE and AS

Patient Entire/ Extremities Trunk Seen Initial Front Vestibular
partial position position view/back
body view

1 (OBE) E + + L L/ST/SI F Elevation, ¯ying, lightness, vertigo

2a (OBE) E + + L L F Flying, lightness
2b (AS)* p ± + SI L/SI B Falling to the right
3 (OBE) p ± + L L F Elevation, ¯ying, lightness, heaviness, sinking, falling
4 (AS) E + + SI SI B Elevation, ¯ying, lightness
5 (AS) p ± + ST SI F Rotation from sitting to lying position
6 (AS) p ± + ST/SI L/ST/SI F ±

Whether the patients had the impression that they saw their body entirely or incompletely (E = entire body; p = partial body) and their
extremities and their trunk (+ = yes; ± = no) is indicated. The position in which the patients saw their body (ST = standing; SI = sitting;
L = lying down) and the position they were in prior to the autoscopic phenomenon (ST = standing; SI = sitting; L = lying down) is
marked. Patient 1 could not indicate in which body position she was in prior to her seizures (with OBE). Patient 6 had seizures with AS
only when she was sitting or standing. Patient 2b saw herself during her seizure with AS initially as lying on her stomach and then as
getting up into a kneeling position (*; see text for further detail). Whether the patients saw themselves front-view (F) or back-view (B),

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and which vestibular sensations were associated with the autoscopic phenomenon, is also indicated. Because the phenomenology of the
autoscopic phenomenon changed in Patient 2 from an OBE prior to the operation (Patient 2a) to AS postoperatively (Patient 2b), her
phenomenology was analysed separately for both periods.

perspectives. They described one physical visuo-spatial and without much detail (Patient 4). The three remaining AS-
perspective (as is classically reported in AS and Patient 6) patients, only saw their upper body parts (always including
and experienced a second visuo-spatial perspective that was head, upper trunk and shoulders; Table 3).
also experienced as being from the physical body. Yet, the All OBE-patients saw their own body as lying on the
latter perspective did not coincide with the patient's position ground or in bed, whereas all AS-patients saw their body in an
prior to AS and had characteristics of a parasomatic and upright position (standing or sitting). These `seen' own body
physical visuo-spatial perspective. The latter visuo-spatial positions agree with the patient's physical body position prior
perspective was experienced either as elevated (Patient 4), as to the AP. Thus, all three OBE-patients were in supine
rotated (Patient 5), or as displaced as well as rotated position prior to their OBE (Table 3). In Patients 2a and 3, this
(Patient 2b). Whereas Patient 2b experienced both visuo- was observed by the authors directly. Patient 1 did not
spatial perspectives simultaneously, Patients 4 and 5 remember her body position prior to the OBEs and stated that
experienced an alternation between both visuo-spatial seizures could occur in any body position. With respect to
perspectives. body position prior to AS, an initial sitting body position was
OBEs were described as vivid and veridical (Patients 1, 2a found for most AS-patients (Table 3). In Patients 4 and 5, this
and 3), although Patient 2a also experienced her OBE as was observed by the authors directly (Patient 5) or the wife of
dreamlike. AS were also experienced as vivid and veridical Patient 4. In Patient 6, AS was recalled by the patient as being
(Patients 4, 5 and 2b; again described as dreamlike by preceded by a either a sitting or standing position. She stated
Patient 2b). Only Patient 6 experienced AS as a non-realistic that AS never occurred while she was in a supine position and
visual pseudo-hallucination. The visual clarity of the experi- that a sitting position was more frequent than a standing
ence was judged by all patients as high, as in everyday life position. Patient 2b described that, prior and during AS, she
and both AP were mostly experienced in colour (Patients 1, was in a supine position from which she was getting up on her
2a, 3, 4 and 5; Table 2). In all OBE- and AS-patients, the knees. To summarize, all OBE-patients were in supine
patient's own body was seen among other objects or subjects. position and most AS-patients in an upright position (sitting
In all patients (except Patient 1), details from the actual visual or standing) prior to the AP.
scene were integrated into OBE/AS. These details included Simple visual manifestations occurred in OBE- and AS-
the general location (hospital or at home), objects in physical patients. They were characterized by a contralesional ¯ash of
contact with the experient's body (clothes, bed, chair), objects light (Patient 5), black dots in the superior visual ®elds
and people within the room (nurse, doctor, table). (Patient 6), bilateral blurred vision and object transformations
In all patients, self-recognition was immediate even if their (Patient 1).
face was not seen (Patient 3) or their body was seen from
behind (Patients 2a and 4). Two OBE-patients saw their entire
body [Patient 3 saw only the lower part of her body (legs, feet Non-visual phenomenology
and lower trunk)]. Among the AS-patients, only one patient Although all patients described OBE/AS in visual terms,
saw his body completely, yet perceived it as thinner, glowing associated sensations were most often vestibular. Two
Out-of body experience and autoscopy 251

patients reported auditory manifestations and three patients from severe familial hemiplegic migraine, the clinical
reported visual body part illusions. symptomatology and the clinical evolution under antiepilep-
All OBE-patients experienced vestibular sensations char- tic treatmentÐas well as EEG and MRI data during his
acterized by feelings of ¯ying or ¯oating (Table 3). Vertigo hospitalizationÐare all evidence in favour of an epileptic
was rare and reported only by Patient 1. Patient 3 also origin of his AS. The complex partial seizure might thus be
experienced sensations of heaviness and falling. Patients 2a considered a complication of the patient's familial hemi-
and 3 felt immediately elevated and ¯oating in the plegic migraine due to circumscribed cortical changes as
parasomatic position, whereas Patient 1 experienced different shown by MRI. Patient 4's history of acute repetitive visual
levels of elevation. There were no reports of actually loss and frequent migraine headaches suggests that his AS
experienced rotations into the 180° inverted OBE position was probably related to a transitory ischaemic attack related
(along the vertical axis) or rotational sensations along the to migraine. In Patient 3, the OBE was induced arti®cially by
other bodily axes (binaural axis or axis of sight; Brandt, electrical stimulation of cortex distant from the primary
1999). Thus, the 180° inversion of the elevated parasomatic epileptic focus. To summarize, OBE/AS were due to complex
body and the elevated visuo-spatial perspective with respect partial seizures in four patients, to electrical cortical stimu-
to the extrapersonal space and the physical body was always lation in one patient, and to a probable transitory ischaemic
experienced as immediate. attack due to migraine in one patient.
Concerning AS, three of four patients experienced

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vestibular sensations. Yet, these sensations were more
variable. Patient 4 reported a feeling of slow progressive Impairment of consciousness
elevation, as well as ¯oating and lightness without the In ®ve patients, OBE/AS occurred during a mental state that
sensation of rotation or 180° inversion with respect to was characterized by a partial impairment of consciousness.
extrapersonal space (as reported by patients with OBE). This impairment was related to complex partial seizures in
Patient 5 experienced a slow progressive backward rotation four patients (1, 2, 5 and 6) and of unknown origin in Patient 4.
from a vertical position (sitting in a chair) to a horizontal Interestingly, the impairment of consciousness was only
position (lying). Patient 2b reported the immediate feeling of partial and very short as determined by the ictal and post-ictal
being in the upright standing position (from a horizontal clinical examination. The clinical evolution in these patients
kneeing position on her bed). On other occasions, she was characterized by the quick recovery of full consciousness
experienced the sensation of loss of balance and falling to and the absence of secondary generalizations. Patient 3 (OBE
the right. Whereas in OBE-patients the vestibular sensations by electrical stimulation) showed no impairment of con-
were always experienced during the OBE, they were reported sciousness during or after stimulation.
prior to (Patient 5), during (Patients 2b and 4), or independ-
ently of AS (Patient 2b; sensation of falling), or not reported
at all (Patient 6). Neuropsychology
Visual body part illusions occurred in OBE and AS In three patients (2, 5 and 6), the neuropsychological
patients, and were characterized by illusory ¯exion of the examination detected moderate to severe speci®c signs of
contralateral upper extremity (Patient 3) or both lower aphasia, agraphia, alexia and apraxia. Moderate to severe
extremities (Patients 2a and 3) or by the illusory transform- spatial or visual agnosia was found in two patients (1 and 3).
ation of one or two extremities (limb shortening in Patient 3; Thus, ®ve of the six patients suffered from signs of lateral
perforation of his hands by his ®ngers in Patient 5). These posterior cortex involvement (Jones-Gotman et al., 1993). In
visual body part illusions were perceived as highly veridical Patient 4, the neuropsychological examination was normal,
although some of these illusions included impossible body but no post-ictal examination could be carried out. Executive
part transformations such as in Patients 3 and 5. functions were normal in all patients (except Patient 1 who
OBE/AS were associated with various emotions. Whereas had a mild de®cit). Verbal and visuo-spatial memory
fear was reported most often (Patients 1, 2a, 2b and 5), impairments, which are the classical neuropsychological
feelings of joy and elation were reported by Patient 4. For ®nding in temporal lobe epilepsy (Jones-Gotman et al., 1993;
Patients 3 and 6 the experience was neutral, yet intriguing and Pegna et al., 1998), were mostly mild de®cits and observed in
surprising. three patients (1, 3 and 6). In conclusion, these ®ndings show
a predominance of speci®c language and visuo-spatial de®cits
(83%) compared with memory de®cits (50%) and executive
Aetiology de®cits (17%), and suggest involvement of the lateral
OBE/AS were found to be related to focal epilepsy in posterior cortex of either hemisphere.
Patients 1, 2 and 6. In these cases of epilepsy, the patients
suffered from very frequent complex partial seizures (20±70
per week) with rare secondary generalizations (0±1 per year). Anatomy
In two of these patients, epilepsy was due to a dysembryo- Lesion analysis shows that both hemispheres are involved in
blastic neuroepithelial tumor. Although Patient 5 suffered OBE (two right hemisphere, one left hemisphere) and AS
252 O. Blanke et al.

perspective, whereas the experient during an AS remains

within the boundaries of his physical body and appears to
have one physical visuo-spatial perspective. Whereas all
present OBE-patients conform to that de®nition, three of the
present AS-patients indicated that they experienced to `see'
from two visuo-spatial perspectivesÐthe habitual physical
visuo-spatial perspective and an additional parasomatic
visuo-spatial perspective (Patients 2a, 4 and 5). None of
these patients felt `out of their body', but also experienced
`seeing' the world from a parasomatic visuo-spatial perspec-
tive. It might be relevant that this parasomatic visuo-spatial
perspective was experienced in rapid alternation with the
habitual physical visuo-spatial perspective. A similar case has
been described by Brugger et al. (1994) and called he-
autoscopy. This extended the work of earlier authors
(Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935; HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra,
1952), who distinguished he-autoscopy from the simpler,

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more visual, and less realistic, AS which is characterized by
one stable physical visuo-spatial perspective (see Patient 6).
Brugger (2002) included this distinction between AS and he-
autoscopy in a recent classi®cation system of AP and
Fig. 4 Mean lesion overlap analysis of the ®ve patients in whom a proposed that he-autoscopy represents phenomenologically
lesion could be de®ned (Patients 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6). Each patient is and functionally an intermediate state between AS and OBE.
indicated in the same colour as in Fig. 2. The results of the Accordingly, we will consider separately the three AP: (i) AS;
individual lesion analysis of each patient were transposed onto the (ii) he-autoscopy; and (iii) OBE.
left hemisphere of Patient 5 (see Methods). Mean overlap analysis
centred on the TPJ (area indicated by dashed white line). Thick Some authors have argued that only OBEs are judged as
black lines indicate sylvian ®ssure and central sulcus; thin lines veridical, whereas AS and he-autoscopy are experienced as
indicate superior temporal sulcus, postcentral sulcus and mere visual pseudo-hallucinations (Rogo, 1982; Blackmore,
intraparietal sulcus. 1984; Irwin, 1985). Our data show that he-autoscopy is also
experienced as veridical. Indeed, the seen parasomatic body
may be so realistic that patients with he-autoscopy (and rarely
also AS) may jostle their parasomatic body while walking
(one right hemisphere, three left hemisphere; Table 1). With together (Sivadon, 1937), draw a chair for the parasomatic
respect to gyral anatomy, individual overlap analysis found body to sit down on (Dewhurst and Pearson, 1955) and ask
the angular gyrus to be involved in all ®ve patients in whom their parasomatic body for help (Patient 5). In addition, OBE
lesion analysis could be performed (Fig. 2A±E). Involvement and he-autoscopy are both experienced as taking place
of the middle and superior temporal gyri, as well as the lateral in real and familiar surroundings [Menninger-Lerchenthal,
occipital gyrus, was found in two patients. For mean lesion 1935; Lhermitte, 1939; HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra, 1952;
overlap analysis, we plotted the lesion of each patient onto the Lukianowicz, 1959 (cases A and F)]. These data suggest that
left hemisphere of Patient 5 (Fig. 4). Mean lesion overlap OBE and he-autoscopy are mostly experienced as veridical,
(four of the ®ve patients) centred on the temporo-parietal whereas AS is mostly experienced as unreal (Patient 6;
junction (TPJ), including the anterior part of the angular Brugger, 2002).
gyrus and the posterior part of the superior temporal gyrus The present patients show that the impression of reality and
(Fig. 4). self-recognition is preserved even if visual details of the seen
body differ from the patient's actual appearance such as
clothes and age in Patient 5, hair cut in Patient 2b or the size
and colouring of his body in Patient 4. Similar observations
Discussion have been reported previously for AP in patients [Sollier,
Phenomenology 1903; Lhermitte, 1939; Lukianowicz, 1957 (case B);
Like most previous authors, we de®ned and distinguished McConnel, 1965; KoÈlmel, 1985 (case 6); Devinsky et al.,
OBE from AS by the spatial location of the visuo-spatial 1989 (case 4)] and healthy subjects (Larsen, 1927; Crookall,
perspective of the experient (Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935; 1964; Green, 1968; Irwin, 1985). In some of our patients, self
Lhermitte, 1939; Green, 1968; Blackmore, 1982; Rogo, 1982; recognition was immediate even if the patient saw his back
Irwin, 1985; Devinsky et al., 1989; Denning and Berios, during the autoscopic phenomenon (Patients 2b and 4). These
1994); during an OBE, the experient appears to `see' the ®ndings suggest that self-recognition in AP may be relatively
world and his body from one parasomatic visuo-spatial independent of the visual features of one's body (Sollier,
Out-of body experience and autoscopy 253

1903; Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935; Lhermitte, 1939; shows that different pathological vestibular sensations are
Brugger et al., 1997) and points to the importance of non- associated with OBE and AS/he-autoscopy, respectively. Our
visual, body-related, perceptual mechanisms. The importance data suggest that OBEs are associated with graviceptive,
of these non-visual, body-related, perceptual mechanisms is otholithic, vestibular sensations: feelings of elevation and
further suggested by the association of vestibular sensations, ¯oating, 180° inversion of parasomatic body and visuo-
visual body-part illusions, the partialness of the seen body and spatial perspective with respect to extrapersonal space. This
the differential effects of the initial body position on AP. favours a graviceptive vestibular dysfunction in OBEs that
The association of vestibular sensations with OBE/AS has has been described as a consequence of brain lesions or
been described previously in case collections and surveys in epileptic discharge in neurological patients (Smith, 1960;
healthy subjects (Muldoon and Carrington, 1929; Crookall, Brandt et al., 1994; Brandt, 1999) and as a physiological
1964; Green, 1968; Yram, 1972; Blackmore, 1982; Irwin, response to microgravity conditions (inversion illusion during
1985) as well as in neurological patients (Bonnier, 1893; space missions or the low gravity phase of parabolic ¯ights;
Skworzoff, 1931; Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935, 1946; Lackner, 1992; Mittelstaedt and Glasauer, 1993). The 180°
HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra, 1952; Devinsky et al., 1989; inversion of the parasomatic body with respect to the
GruÈsser and Landis, 1991). Whereas most latter authors extrapersonal space in OBEs is reminiscent of otholithic
observed the frequent association of vestibular sensations and vestibular sensations of cortical or subcortical origin: the
OBE or AS, others proposed that a paroxysmal vestibular room tilt illusion (Solms et al., 1988; Tiliket et al., 1996;

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dysfunction might be an important mechanism for the Malis and Guyot, 2003). Whereas, during the room tilt
generation of AP (Bonnier, 1893; Skworzoff, 1931; illusion, it is not the body and visuo-spatial perspective of the
Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935, 1946; GruÈsser and Landis, observer which seems inverted by 180° within a stable
1991). Menninger-Lerchenthal (1935) extended this view and extrapersonal visual space (as in OBEs or inversion illusions),
pointed to the important role of vestibular disorders in the it is the extrapersonal visual space which seems inverted by
generation of visual illusions and dysfunctions. In the present 180° with respect to a stable observer during the room tilt
study, the importance of vestibular mechanisms in AP is illusion. Interestingly, responses to microgravity may be
underlined by their presence in ®ve of the six patients and by experienced as room tilt or inversion illusion (Lackner, 1992;
the fact that vestibular sensations were evoked in Patient 3 at Mittelstaedt and Glasauer, 1993). Finally, room tilt illusion,
the same site where higher currents induced an OBE inversion illusion and OBE share characteristics that suggest
associated with sensations of ¯oating and elevation (see their related origin: they are paroxysmal, can be aborted by
also Pen®eld, 1955). If we assume that both electrically bodily action and eye closure, and are mostly characterized
induced responses in Patient 3 (vestibular sensations, OBE) by exact 180° inversion between the extrapersonal space and
result from interference with neurons under the stimulating the observer. Vestibular sensations in patients with he-
electrode, this ®nding suggests that OBE and vestibular autoscopy were less prominent and more variable, but present
sensations are caused by functionally and anatomically in all three patients. They were characterized by sensations of
related neuronal populations (Nathan et al., 1993; Blanke progressive elevation, rotation or falling. In addition, they
et al., 2000c). Importantly, the core region of the vestibular were associated loosely with he-autoscopy occurring prior,
cortex (monkey: Guldin and GruÈsser, 1998; human: Lobel during, or independently of the autoscopic period, thus
et al., 1998; Brandt and Dieterich, 1999; Fasold et al., 2002) differing from vestibular sensations in patients with OBEs.
is situated at the TPJ and/or the posterior insula. As the TPJ Our patient with AS did not report any pathological vestibular
was found in all present patients (in whom brain damage sensations. In conclusion, these data provide evidence for an
could be detected) to be implicated in AP, this localization important role of vestibular cortex in the induction of OBE
improves previous results that have suggested the temporal, and he-autoscopy. Whereas, our data suggest that OBEs are
parietal and occipital cortex (Todd and Dewhurst, 1955; related to a cortical otholithic dysfunction, they do not
Lunn, 1970; Devinsky et al., 1989; GruÈsser and Landis, 1991; provide further details about the vestibular dysfunction in he-
Brugger et al., 1997) and agrees with earlier anatomical autoscopy, and suggest that a vestibular dysfunction may
suggestions (Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935; HeÂcaen and even be absent in AS. Since vestibular dysfunctions and
Ajuriaguerra, 1952). The TPJ is also implicated in visuo- illusions due to acquired cortical brain damage are generally
spatial neglect (Halligan et al., 2003)Ða clinical condition present without AP (Smith, 1960; Solms et al., 1988; Brandt
which has been shown to disturb the patient's egocentric et al., 1994), a vestibular dysfunction might be a necessary,
spatial relationship with extrapersonal space or visuo-spatial but not a suf®cient condition to induce AP.
perspective (Karnath, 1994; Farrell and Robertson, 2000; In addition to a vestibular dysfunction, the present data
Vogeley and Fink, 2003). In addition, the TPJ is activated suggest that AP might also relate to a failure to integrate
during egocentric perspective changes in healthy subjects proprioceptive, tactile and visual body-related information
(Maguire et al., 1998; Vallar et al., 1999). These previous (disintegration in multisensory personal space) in a coherent
®ndings underline the importance of the TPJ in normal and central representation of one's body (body schema). This is
pathological visuo-spatial perspective taking and concur with suggested by the following ®ve ®ndings. First, many of the
the present anatomical results in OBE/AS. The present study present patients experienced paroxysmal visual body-part
254 O. Blanke et al.

illusions. The association of visual body-part illusions with Aetiology, impairment of consciousness and
AP has been described previously [Ehrenwald, 1931; neuropsychology
Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935, 1946; Lhermitte, 1939; Our ®ndings suggest that AP are related to partially or
HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra, 1952; Lunn, 1970 (cases 1 and minimally altered states of consciousness of short duration
2); Ioanasescu, 1969 (case 8); Devinsky et al., 1989 (case 10)] during partial seizures, focal electrical stimulation and a
and has led several authors to argue for a similar or closely probable transitory ischaemic attack. Seizure history and
related functional and anatomical origin (Menninger- prolonged video-EEG recordings in the epileptic Patients 1, 2
Lerchenthal, 1935; HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra, 1952; and 6 further revealed that all patients suffered from very
Ioanasescu, 1960; Brugger et al., 1997). Our data show that frequent complex partial seizures. The ictal and post-ictal
three of the six patients experienced illusory body-part neurological and neuropsychological examination showed
sensations. As for vestibular sensations, the presence of body that loss of consciousness was brief, with partly preserved
part illusions is not a necessary condition for OBE and AS oral comprehension and task execution. In addition, seizures
since they most frequently occur without AP (HeÂcaen and were almost never followed by secondary generalization.
Ajuriaguerra, 1952; HeÂcaen, 1973). The second phenomen- Based on the results from Patient 3, in whom an OBE of 2 s
ological link between AP and a body schema dysfunction is duration was induced by electrical stimulation, it might be
suggested by the fact that the patients' own body, which is suggested that AP may even occur without any impairment of

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seen during the autoscopic phenomenon, was often restricted consciousness. Even in Patients 4 and 5, for whom fewer
either to the patients' upper or lower body. Although most neuropsychological data were available, partial persistence of
healthy and neurological AP-experients describe their seen consciousness (or cognitive abilities) is suggested by the fact
body as complete, a review of the literature reveals that that they included accurate facts in their accounts or were
partialness of the seen own body during the AP is not talking and responding to questions during the period of
uncommon [neurology/psychiatry: Menninger-Lerchenthal, partially impaired consciousness. Finally, the interictal and
1935; Genner, 1947; HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra, 1952 post-ictal neuropsychological examinations revealed moder-
(case 84); Conrad, 1953; Lukianowicz, 1957 (case A); ate to severe selective impairments concordant with a
Devinsky et al., 1989 (case 7); Bhaskaran et al., 1990; lateralized neocortical seizure focus (as shown by lesion
GruÈsser and Landis, 1991; Dening and Berrios, 1994; healthy analysis). Thus, speci®c signs of agraphia, alexia, paraphasia,
subjects: Crookall, 1964 (case 183); Yram, 1972; Irwin, 1985 as well as apraxia and visual agnosia, were observed while
(case 13)]. Thirdly, the present data show that AP differ functions subserved by other cortical areas such as memory
depending on the patient's position prior to the experience, were preserved or only mildly impaired. The above men-
suggesting an in¯uence of proprioceptive and tactile mechan- tioned ictal and post-ictal ®ndings are distinct from patients
isms. Thus, during an OBE our patients were in a supine with medial temporal lobe epilepsy in whom complex partial
position as was found by Green (1968) in 75% of OBEs. seizures are generally less frequent, of longer duration, more
Interestingly, most techniques that are used to induce OBE frequently associated with complete loss of consciousness
voluntarily propose that the subjects use a supine and relaxed and secondary generalizations, and with more severe memory
position (Blackmore, 1982; Irwin, 1985). However, the impairments (Jones-Gotman et al., 1993; Foldvary et al.,
patient's position prior to AS and he-autoscopy was either 1997; Kotogal, 1992; Wieser, 2000). The present neuro-
sitting or standing in our experience, con®rming results by logical and neuropsychological data thus lend support to
Dening and Berrios (1994), who reviewed a large number of models that have linked AP to partially impaired or altered
patients with AS and he-autoscopy. Fourthly, the importance states of consciousness (Tart, 1974, 1975; Blackmore, 1982).
of body-related processing on AP is further underlined by our
observation that the experient during an OBE `sees' himself
in supine position, whereas the experient during an AS `sees' Theoretical considerations
himself in a sitting or standing position, thus re¯ecting The integration of proprioceptive, tactile and visual informa-
different body positions prior to or during the respective tion with respect to one's body with vestibular information is
autoscopic phenomenon. Finally, visual body-part illusions important for the constant updating of the movement and
generally occur in posterior parietal lobe dysfunction or in position of single body parts and the entire body, as well as
posterior temporal lobe dysfunction concordant with the the body's position in extrapersonal space. Largely uncon-
proposed lesion location in the present patients with AP scious, these mechanisms ascertain that seen and felt body
(Menninger-Lerchenthal, 1935; HeÂcaen and Ajuriaguerra, positions are synchronized and that inconsistent information
1952; Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1998). In addition, several is discarded. In order to create a central representation of
neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies suggest the one's own body (Melzack, 1990), the brain must integrate and
implication of the TPJ and/or cortical areas along the weigh the evidence from these different sensory sources. This
intraparietal sulcus in combining tactile, proprioceptive and involves mechanisms for imposing coherence on information
visual information in a coordinated reference frame (Calvert from different sensory sources and mechanisms for dimin-
et al., 2000; Bremmer et al., 2001; Ladavas, 2002). ishing incoherences in order to avoid uncertainty. Thus, the
Out-of body experience and autoscopy 255

brain must create sensory central representations of the

movement and position of the body and its position in
extrapersonal space, even if this requires the temporary
inhibition of discrepant inputs. Discrepant proprioceptive
input might be discarded (and regarded as noise) if visual,
tactile and vestibular input about the position and movement
of one's own body concur. Yet, in some cases, discrepant
input can be strong and persistent leading to two discrepant
central representations of one's own body or body parts as
induced experimentally (Goodwin et al., 1972; Craske, 1977;
Lackner, 1988).
We speculate that, during AP, the integration of proprio-
ceptive, tactile, and visual information of one's body has
failed due to discrepant central representations by the
different sensory systems. This might then lead to the
experience of seeing one's body or body parts in a position

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that does not coincide with the felt position of one's body, as
proposed for the affected body part in supernumerary
phantom limbs (Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1998; Brugger
et al., 2000). The fact that patients with supernumerary
phantom limbs only experience their illusory limb on one side Fig. 5 The phenomenology of AS (left), he-autoscopy (middle)
of their body, whereas the AP in our patients always and OBE (right) are represented schematically in the upper part of
concerned the trunk or the entire body suggests that a the ®gure. The position and posture of the physical body for each
autoscopic phenomenon is indicated by black lines and that of the
different dysfunction is present in our patients. This is also parasomatic body in dashed lines. We found that AS and
suggested by the fact that arti®cially induced disintegration in he-autoscopy occurred primarily in a sitting/standing position and
personal space (Goodwin et al., 1972; Craske, 1977; Lackner, OBE in a supine position. The fact that patients with AS and
1988) as well as visual body part illusions (HeÂcaen and he-autoscopy frequently only see their upper bodies is also
included (the absence of the lower body is indicated by a pointed
Ajuriaguerra, 1952) are not always associated with AP. We lower contour of the body). The visuo-spatial perspective is
thus speculate that an additional vestibular dysfunction is indicated by the arrow pointing away from the location in space
necessarily present in AP. As shown in Fig. 5, we speculate from which the patient had the impression he/she saw from AS:
that the different forms of AP are related to different degrees from the physical body; OBE: from the parasomatic body; He-
of vestibular dysfunction. autoscopy: alternating between physical and parasomatic body.
The pathophysiology of AS, he-autoscopy and OBE are
The latter dysfunction is especially apparent for OBEs that represented schematically in the middle and lower parts of the
were always associated with vestibular sensations. This ®gure. The square in the middle of the ®gure indicates that all
suggests that disembodiment and elevated visuo-spatial three autoscopic phenomena are characterized by a disintegration
perspective during OBEs might be related to disintegration of tactile-proprioceptive-visual information in personal space. In
the lower part of the ®gure, we indicate that the different forms of
between vestibular and extrapersonal sensory information as autoscopic phenomena are associated to different degrees with a
suggested for the inversion illusion and the room tilt illusion vestibular dysfunction leading to disintegration between personal
(Brandt, 1999). Yet, whereas inversion illusion and room tilt (vestibular) and extrapersonal (visual) space. Whereas, an OBE is
illusion are not associated with an additional disintegration in characterized by a strong vestibular dysfunction, a vestibular
personal space (failure to integrate proprioceptive, tactile and dysfunction is weak or may be absent in AS. He-autoscopy
represents, pathophysiologically, an intermediate state between
visual information with respect to one's own body), OBEs OBE and AS.
are. We thus speculate that the disintegration in personal
space in patients with an OBE leads to the illusory
reduplication of one's own body and that the co-occurring
disintegration between personal and extrapersonal space
(vestibular dysfunction) leads to the intriguing experience visuo-spatial perspectives that alternate with the physical
of seeing one's own double from an elevated parasomatic visuo-spatial perspective (Fig. 5, middle).
position (Fig. 5, right). Whereas disintegration in personal In conclusion, we propose a neuroscienti®c theory that
space is also present in patients with AS, the vestibular accounts for the three main forms of AP: AS, he-autoscopy
dysfunction is much weaker or might even be absent (Fig. 5, and OBE. We argue that these complex illusory reduplica-
left). He-autoscopy represents an intermediate state between tions of one's own body result from a double disintegration
AS and OBE, and is characterized by disintegration in in: (i) personal space; and (ii) between personal and
personal space and varying or instable degrees of vestibular extrapersonal space at the TPJ. The unconscious creation of
dysfunction leading to partially elevated and parasomatic central representation(s) of one's own body based on
256 O. Blanke et al.

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